In the hours before he was put to death, Elmo Patrick Sonnier struggled
with ambivalent feelings toward the fathers of his victims, who asked to watch
the electrocution, said Sister Helen Prejean, the spiritual adviser who sat
with the condemned man during his final hours.
Godfrey Bourque and Lloyd LeBlanc --the fathers of Loretta Bourque, 18,
and David LeBlanc, 16, whom Sonnier was convicted of murdering in 1977-- were
granted permission to witness the execution Thursday.
Sonnier, 34, had heard news reports quoting Bourque as saying he'd like to
pull the switch himself, said Prejean, a New Orleans nun.
"If they want to pull the switch, OK, let 'em," he told Prejean angrily as
he puffed on cigarettes and gulped coffee.
But in the end, she said, he decided "he didn't want his final words to be
Sonnier directed his last statement to LeBlanc, saying, "I can understand
the way you feel. I have no hatred in my heart. As I leave this world, I ask
God to forgive...me for what I did."
He then asked LeBlanc for his forgiveness. LeBlanc nodded, and then
Bourque remarked quietly: "He didn't ask me."
Sonnier also said that his brother, Eddie, "did it," Prejean said.
Prosecutors said both Sonnier and his brother abducted the couple from a
lovers lane near New Iberia, drove them to a remote sugar cane field, and raped
the girl. The teen-agers were shot three times each at close range in the back
of the head.
Since their arrests, the Sonnier brothers switched their stories about who
did the shootings. But Eddie Sonnier insisted in a letter to Gov. Edwin W.
Edwards earlier this week that he was the killer and not Elmo Sonnier. Elmo
Sonnier told Prejean that Eddie Sonnier was the trigger man. Eddie Sonnier's
sentence was reduced to life in prison because a court believed he did not fire
the fatal shots.
Prejean, who talked to Elmo Sonnier through a steel mesh window most of
the day Wednesday, said he bore no ill will toward Eddie Sonnier and dictated a
letter to her Wednesday afternoon to give to his brother. "He told him to be
cool, keep his head and stay out of trouble. He ended it, 'I love you, your
Elmo Sonnier never really believed his appeal would be successful, she
said. After he ate a steak dinner, she said the death house phone rang and
then a guard came and told Sonnier his appeals had been turned down by the
"I know I'm not going to make it," he told Prejean. Minutes later, after
Edwards refused to intervene, "there was fear and anguish on his face," she
Guards, dressed in black, came in and shaved his head and leg. Later he
resigned himself to his fate and started talking about life after death, she
said. "He also said no one was going to see him break."
Prejean followed Elmo Sonnier to the execution chamber, her hand on his
shoulder, reading from Isaiah Chapter 43: "Fear not, for I have redeemed
you...When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned...Lead out the people
who are blind though they have eyes, who are deaf though they have
After reading his last statement, he was strapped in "Gruesome Gertie,"
the inmates' name for the state's oak electric chair.
Elmo Sonnier caught Prejean's eye: "I love you," he said. "I love you,
too," she replied.
Then his face was covered with a greenish-gray veil, and the executioner
pulled the switch at 12:07 a.m., sending four alternating jolts of 2,000 volts
and 500 volts of electricity through his body.
Prejean said she closed her eyes for the minute the volts were
The two fathers sat through the execution, side by side, arms folded and
without expression. They had no comment afterward.
"The fathers handled themselves well -- with dignity in what was a very
difficult situation. We had no complaints about their conduct," Warden Ross
Sonnier will be buried in Baton Rouge Friday.
Larry Moore, director of Rebenhorst Funeral Home in Baton Rouge, said, "A
religious community has taken responsibility for seeing that the man is
Prejean said she and other Catholic nuns are involved.
Moore said the funeral home provided the nuns with a casket. The service
will be held at the home, with burial at Roselawn Memorial Park.